Thursday, April 16, 2009
"Pimp'n Out" the Students, Helping, or Both?
Many law schools have externship programs -- students work elsewhere in a law related jobs and receive credit. Schools divide on whether the externship must be in a non profit context. This question is, perhaps, more pressing, when the issue arises in the context of public schools.
If public law schools are based on a "public good" rationale and are not simply a means of redistributing income from taxpayers to people who do well on the LSAT, it is not easy to see the rationale for saying, for example, to Exxon, please let our students work for you for nothing and we will give them credit toward graduation. Does this mean we are paying students to work for for-profit entities and subsidizing those firms at the same time? After all, if the students do something, anything, that has market value, how can this not be viewed as a form of subsidization? "Pimp'n out" the students, as one friend describes it, is hard justify.
This seemed pretty simple to me. Why would a state school pay students to work for firms whose interests might be opposed to those of the State paying for the education of the students? And, having subsidized one for-profit firm, is the School obligated to subsidize others, particularly their opponents, equally. I mentioned this to another friend who told me, correctly, I was way behind on the issue. Most of the students are in law school in order to do exactly what the for-profit externship permits -- working for firms that may or may not have any connection to the public interest. In effect, the for-profit externship is just a continuation of what law schools, including public law schools, do anyway -- subsidize the private sector. (You never hear much about this but shouldn't it be a concern to both "liberals" and conservatives?)
I was way behind in another way. Relatively affluent students have always been able to work for for-profit firms in the summer. Getting paid was not that important. The students who could not participate were those who needed money even if it meant delivering pizza. By giving credit to these students, they are also able to participate in an activity that actually may help them hone their legal skills. I note this because no one is claiming that the for-profit experience is not a valuable one for students. Unfortunately, without a public service requirement, the skills acquired are not likely to be used to pay back the taxpayers who paid for the legal education.
It's not a simple matter.